Tire pressure is the most easily adjusted variable on your motorcycle and also one of the most crucial. But the vast majority of us are guilty of neglecting it and, even if we do check it regularly, failing to take full advantage of the benefits adjusting it brings. Here’s 5 things you need to know about motorcycle tire pressure.

Check Them While Cold

The suggested pressures in your owner’s manual are for cold tire pressures. That means after your bike’s been sitting for 20 minutes or more, don’t wait until winter. Heating tires up by riding on them can increase pressures by over 10 percent. The MSF actually recommends waiting three hours from your last ride before attempting to ascertain a correct cold pressure. That sounds like overkill to us, use your judgement.

Use Your Own, High Quality Gauge

I’ve seen the gauges at gas station forecourts read-off by up to 30 psi over my own gauge that I carry with me everywhere. Even a variation of just a few psi can alter your motorcycle’s handling and braking abilities, so it’s important to use an accurate gauge. They’re cheap, so no excuses.

The Extremes

What’s the worst that can happen if your tires are massively under inflated? Ultimately the tire could come off the rim if there’s not enough pressure to force the bead into the wheel. More likely, you’ll simply experience sluggish, unstable handling, slow steering and you could damage the tire or wheel, particularly if you’re riding off-road. Over inflated? The size of the contact patch is reduced and the ride worsened. Too much pressure can cause your tires to quickly overheat, reducing traction.

Checking a motorcycle’s tire pressure is super easy. All you do is take out your handy tire gauge and apply it correctly to the wheel’s valve stem. Well, yes…and no. Tire manufacturers recommend that you check your bike’s air pressure when the rubber is cold – meaning at ambient temperature. If you’ve ridden your bike in the last few hours or have parked it in the sun, where the tires can absorb heat, the pressure will read artificially high.

We know that racers often check tire pressure immediately after they leave the track, but they’re actually using the pressure rise they’re getting out of their tire as a barometer for estimating the tire’s temperature and whether they’re leaving potential traction on the table.

Street riders have different needs. First, the air pressure helps the tire carcass maintain the proper profile, making for predictable handling in the varied environments encountered out in the real world. Second, proper air pressure helps keep the tires from overheating and cooking the life out of the rubber compounds. (A quick FYI, race bikes typically run lower tire pressures than street tires.) Third, your bike will get better gas mileage and longer tire life with proper inflation. Finally, both over- and under-inflated tires are more prone to failure than those using the correct air pressure.

So, before you ride your bike, check the tires’ pressure with an accurate gauge. Also, if you need to move your bike to get the valve stem to an easier place to use the gauge, take advantage of the movement to examine the tire’s tread for any sharp items that could – or may have already – cause(ed) a leak.

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